COVID in Europe: Germany faces ‘terrible Christmas’, Czech Republic and Slovakia target unvaccinated

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COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in various parts of Europe as the cold weather has affected the spread of the virus.

Countries on the Old Continent are attempting to curb the spike through various means — from introducing lockdowns for the unvaccinated to limiting access to certain services, or pushing for an increase in vaccination rates.

Around 60% of people in Western Europe are fully immunised against COVID-19, but only about half as many are vaccinated in Eastern Europe.

The World Health Organization reported on Tuesday (November 16) that coronavirus deaths in Europe rose 5% in the previous week, making it the only region in the world where COVID-19 deaths increased.

Here is a run-down of the latest situation in some of the European countries.

Germany

Health authorities issues a stark warning on Thursday (November 18) as 65,371 new cases were reported in a single day, confirming an upward trend experts have been warning about for weeks.

“We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” said Lothar Wieler, director of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”

He called for a significant increase in vaccination rates to well above 75%, from 67.7% at present. In some German regions rates are as low as 57.6%.

Wieler also urged the closure of bars and clubs, an end to large-scale events and for many other places to be restricted to those with vacccine or recovery certificates.

Lawmakers are debating measures on Thursday to replace existing rules which expire at the end of the month.

The fourth wave of COVID-19 is hitting Germany with “full force”, Angela Merkel said on Wednesday (November 17) describing the pandemic as “dramatic” at a meeting with German city leaders.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has called on doctors not to be too strict about waiting at least six months before giving patients vaccine booster shots.

The appeals come days after Brandenburg, which includes Berlin, became the latest of several of the country’s federal states to ban unvaccinated people — even if they tested negative for COVID-19 — from restaurants, museums and other public venues.

Sweden

The Swedish government announced on Wednesday that from December 1 a health pass will be required to attend any event of more than 100 people. The COVID pass — attesting that the holder has either been fully vaccinated, tested negative over the previous 72 hours or recovered from the disease over the preceding six months — has so far only been used in Sweden for travel purposes.

The government also reversed its November 1 decision to stop testing fully vaccinated people.

Even though Sweden is currently recording few cases — the daily average over the previous seven days is 840 cases — the country “is not isolated from the rest of the world”, health minister Lena Hallengren told reporters on Wednesday.

Restaurants and bars are exempt for the time being.

Sweden lifted almost all its anti-Covid restrictions by the end of September due to the progress of its vaccination programme and the good epidemic situation.

The country currently has an incidence rate of 85.8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) — one of the lowest rates in Europe and far behind its neighbours Norway and Denmark, which are now experiencing a surge in cases after lifting most of their health measures.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has announced additional measures as new cases hit the highest level to date.

The Czech daily tally soared to 22,479 new cases, eclipsing the previous record set on January 7 by almost 5,000 and nearly 8,000 more than just a week ago. The country’s infection rate rose to 813 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, up from 558 a week earlier.

Under government plans, from Monday (November 22) most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants or use hotels based on coronavirus test results. Only people who are vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will remain eligible.

Slovakia

Slovakia is planning new restrictions on unvaccinated people in an effort to tame the latest surge of coronavirus infections, the prime minister said on Tuesday (November 16).

Eduard Heger said his government will vote on Thursday on proposals by an advisory group of medical experts to face the “critical” situation in the country’s hospitals. If approved the measures will then be effective for three weeks.

Among the proposed measures, people who have not been vaccinated will be banned from all non-essential stores, shopping malls, gyms, pools and hotels. They also won’t be allowed to attend any mass public gatherings like sports events.

Unvaccinated people will be able to get into their workplaces with negative virus tests.

If the situation doesn’t get any better in the next three weeks, the government is ready to impose even more restrictions, the prime minister said.

Slovakia reported 8,342 new virus cases on Wednesday (November 17), surpassing the previous record of 7,244 set Friday. Figures earlier this week showed over 81% of the hospitalised have not been fully vaccinated.

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Slovakia, one of the hardest-hit European Union countries, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the 27-nation bloc. Only about 45% of its nearly 5.5 million have been fully vaccinated.

Thousands in both Czech and Slovakian capitals, Prague and Bratislava, used Wednesday’s anniversary of the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution to rally against their government’s upcoming coronavirus restrictions.

The protesters ignored social distancing and didn’t wear masks.

Ireland

New COVID-19 restrictions come into force in Ireland from midnight on Thursday (November 18) due to high rates of infection that have put pressure on hospitals.

People are told to work from home unless attending the workplace is “absolutely necessary”. A requirement for COVID-19 passes (based on vaccination or recovery) is extended to cinemas and theatres, while closing times for all on-licensed premises, including in hotels, will move to midnight.

With immediate effect, household close contacts who are fully vaccinated and showing no symptoms should restrict their movements until they have 3 negative antigen test results taken within a 5-day period.

Announcing the measures, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said that without the country’s massive vaccination campaign, Ireland would be in “total lockdown”. Nearly 90% of people over 12 years old are fully vaccinated.

The measures follow stark warnings from health officials, who say modelling predicts a steep rise in case numbers and hospital admissions under the most pessimistic scenarios.

Belgium

Belgium is moving to extend mask-wearing and making home-working compulsory where possible, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Wednesday (November 17) after a meeting of regional and local leaders.

From Monday (November 22), employees who can will have to work from home at least four days a week. This will be reduced to three days from December 13.

Mask wearing is to become compulsory in public places. Anyone over 10 years old must wear one on public transport, in bars and restaurants, theatres and cinemas, and at public events including those held outdoors.

Until now, health passes have allowed for masks to be taken off indoors. The pass is to be extended to Christmas markets, events with over 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, and private events in bar-restaurants.

Vaccinations for children aged between five and 11 will begin “as soon as possible” on a voluntary basis, following the green light from Belgian regulators and approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which has been analysing the results of clinical tests of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on children.

Hospital admissions are going up at a rate of 30% per week and have reached their highest level since May. More than a quarter of hospital patients are in ICU, further straining the healthcare system.

Belgium has been in the midst of a spike in cases since about a month ago, when the government reimposed some restrictions, having relaxed them a few weeks earlier. However, infections have continued to rise, with more than 10,000 reported each day over the past week.

Italy

Italy has tightened its green pass rules in an attempt to slow down the infection rate before the December holiday season.

According to the new set of restrictions, trains can now be stopped in case any of the passengers appear to have covid symptoms, while all taxi drivers are required to have a valid green pass, with the limit of two passengers seated in the back also becoming mandatory.

Italy has already updated its international travel rules in late October. The five-grade system can effectively ban entry for anything except work and family reasons depending on the tier of the country of origin, but most European countries are still in the middle “C” tier. However, this might change by December 15, when the rules are supposed to be updated.

The country’s authorities reported 44 covid-related deaths on Monday, an uptick from 36 the day before. The number of infections went down, from 7,569 on Sunday to 5,144. Italy still has the second-highest overall death toll on the continent, with 132,819 deaths from covid placing it right after the UK.

Ukraine

As the daily death toll in the country reached a record-breaking 832 on Tuesday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that those who receive two jabs of the vaccine will be given a payment of 1,000 hryvnia, or about 33 euros in an attempt to alleviate vaccination reluctance.

The average nominal wage in Ukraine was around 13 thousand hryvnia earlier in 2021, while the minimum salary rests at six thousand, according to the country’s State Statistics Service.

Statistics on how many people received both doses vary greatly, with reports claiming that it stands anywhere between 20 and 28 per cent. The country of 41 million has been in the throes of the latest wave for weeks, forcing a reintroduction of significant restrictions in several cities, including Kyiv.

Austria

Authorities in Austria said on Wednesday (November 17) that travellers would need to show a negative PCR test upon entering the country. Previously, results from the cheaper lateral flow tests were allowed.

On Monday, the Alpine country implemented a nationwide lockdown for its unvaccinated citizens. The rule, which took effect at midnight on November 15, prohibits people 12 years and older from going outside except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, grocery shopping, or for a walk.

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The number of police patrols has been increased and those found breaking the rules can be fined up to €1,450.

“This is a dramatic step,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Austrian Oe1 radio, explaining the lockdown rule.

“In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”

About 64% of the population is fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.”

Austria on Sunday recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days.

The Netherlands

In response to a spike in those testing positive for COVID-19 — a record-breaking number of 16,364 infections were registered on Friday — the Dutch caretaker government implemented a partial lockdown on Saturday night that is due to run for at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8 pm.

The soaring number of cases in this nation of 17.5 million comes despite more than 84% of the Dutch adult population being fully vaccinated.

In the northern city of Leeuwarden, hundreds of young people gathered in a central square to protest against the measures, setting off fireworks and igniting flares in front of the riot police who had assembled to quash the protests.

Hospitals in the southern province of Limburg — the hardest-hit Dutch region — stated in a letter to the health ministry that they are ”heading straight for a healthcare blockage and the entire system is grinding to a standstill.”

Switzerland

After nearly 4,000 new cases were reported on Friday, Tanja Stadler, head of the country’s COVID-19 Task Force said that hospitals might have to admit up to 30,000 COVID patients this winter, according to the Swiss outlet Le Matin.

About 64.9% of the alpine country’s population is fully vaccinated according to the latest figures. Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers demonstrated against a government-led vaccination drive, with riot police having to protect public vaccination sites in places like Zurich.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria has topped the list of countries worldwide in the number of COVID-related deaths. With the latest figure reaching 283.68 deaths per one million inhabitants, the wave in this Balkan country has still not relented.

The grim situation has deteriorated to the point where hospitals in Bulgaria are forced to temporarily suspend all non-emergency surgeries so more doctors can treat the influx of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, parents across the country have protested a measure demanding that schoolchildren be tested once a week in order for in-person classes to resume. Protests against the Green Passes also entered their third week.

Bulgaria, which held its third general elections of the year on Sunday, has the lowest double vaccination rate among EU member states, sitting squarely at about 23%.

Romania

Like Bulgaria, Romania has found itself in the throes of a deadly spike in cases, with reports claiming that the morgue in the main hospital in the capital has run out of space for the dead in recent days.

Five European countries — Italy, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and Poland — offered to help Romania treat as many patients in critical condition as possible, and just last Wednesday, four Romanians with severe forms of COVID-19 were flown to Italy.

Although the cases seem to be on a downward trajectory, the current bi-weekly average of 724.42 citizens testing positive for COVID-19 is still considered to be grave in a country of 19.29 million.​

Serbia

In Serbia, the rate of fully vaccinated citizens has slowed down significantly since May and remains at 43%, despite the country’s initial success in procuring a large number of vaccines by several different producers as early as January.

The country of almost 7 million has been averaging at least five thousand cases per day since mid-September.

The government responded by reintroducing some light measures, such as bars, cafes, restaurants, and other public venues requesting their guests present a COVID pass after 10 pm.

Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić’s statement last month that she “doesn’t believe in [going back to] the same measures that were implemented before the vaccines,” pondering the purpose of the vaccines altogether if lockdowns continue to be a necessity, has come under heavy scrutiny.

Some doctors are now threatening to sue her due to conditions in certain hospitals that forced the medical workers to focus exclusively on treating covid patients. Brnabić has rejected that criticism, saying on Thursday that she is proud of her government’s response.

Meanwhile, authorities at the graveyard in Belgrade say they have an average of 65 burials a day, compared to between 35 and 40 before the pandemic. Gravediggers are forced to bury people on Sundays — which typically they didn’t — to handle the load.

Croatia

Soaring infections appear to have been a wake-up call to some extent in Croatia, which saw unusually large lines of people waiting for vaccines in recent days.

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Authorities said on Wednesday that more than 15,000 people received their first dose a day earlier — a significant jump after vaccinations had all but halted in the Adriatic country of 4.2 million.

At the same time, anti-vaxxers held vigils in a number of cities in the country after the government announced plans to introduce mandatory COVID passes for government and public employees, including school teachers.

Some protesters were seen wearing a yellow Star of David, imitating those forced on the European Jewry in Nazi Germany, local outlet Index.hr reported.

Greece

The Mediterranean country has entered a new, fifth wave of the pandemic, brought on immediately after the fourth one caused by tourists from around the continent flocking to its shores during the holiday season.

The surge in cases has seen the numbers soar to a weekly average of 6,710 cases per day, while hospitals in places like Thessaloniki and Volos ran out of ICU beds to the point of having to intubate patients in hallways and parking lots.

The government and the ministry of health responded by pushing for an increase in vaccinations and demanded that doctors in private clinics volunteer their services to state-run hospitals to help with the influx of patients.

Although the country is faring relatively well in terms of vaccinations, with about two-thirds of its population receiving both jabs, the numbers vary wildly between Greece’s regions. The northern regions, in particular, have a very low rate — well under 50% in some places.

North Macedonia

The country’s health authorities might have to bin about 30 thousand doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that are about to expire, according to local outlets’ reports on Tuesday.

The soon-to-be inert AstraZeneca doses are only used as a second vaccine for those age 60 and above, which further complicates the issue.

Health experts in the country are warning that North Macedonia might be headed towards a major peak in the upcoming weeks, especially considering a relatively low vaccination rate of 37% and the ongoing waves in neighbouring countries like Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria.

Latvia

Last month, Latvia introduced a nighttime curfew from 20:00 to 05:00 due to the worsening coronavirus situation in the Baltic country of 1.9 million. Most stores were closed, and indoor and outdoor gatherings, including entertainment, sports, and cultural events weren’t allowed.

As these restrictions ended on Monday, the government has now revised its measures, allowing for those with certificates proving vaccination or recovery to access all services.

Restrictions are still in place for the unvaccinated, who can as of Monday only do basic things outside of their homes, such as grocery shopping or travel with public transportation.

Latvia is still seeing a significant number of cases emerge, with a bi-weekly average of 1,533.33 testing positive per 100,000 inhabitants.

Denmark

On Friday, Denmark reintroduced its digital pass as it declared COVID-19 “a socially critical disease” once again amid an increase in cases.

For the next month, a valid pass is mandatory in order to enter nightclubs or cafes or to be seated indoors in restaurants.

People above the age of 15 must show their pass when attending outdoor events where the number of people exceeds 2,000.

The Danish pass app shows a QR code with a green banner if the holder is fully vaccinated or received the first dose at least two weeks ago, has recently recovered from COVID-19 or has had a negative test in the past 72 hours. A paper version is also available.

France

The country is going through its fifth wave with the number of infections steadily climbing. There were over 19,700 new cases confirmed on Tuesday with a daily average of about 11,000 over the previous seven days.

Two weeks prior, the country had recorded 2,039 cases with a seven-day average of 5,288.

But for now, no new measures have been suggested.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Wednesday that “we get through each wave better than the last because we learn each time how to manage this epidemic.”

“We are holding up better today than other countries not only because our vaccination coverage is higher and the booster shot is progressing, but also because we implemented the health pass very early on,” he argued.

Nearly 75% of France‘s 67.4 million people are fully vaccinated.

According to Attal, the country’s “vaccination coverage is blocking the virus’ infernal mechanism and the sharp increase in infections has not been followed, for the moment, by the same impact on hospitalisations.”

The number of COVID-19 hospitalisations, he said, increased by 10% over the past week, stressing that “there are nine times more critical care admissions and deaths among the unvaccinated than among the vaccinated.”

Watch the full interview with the WHO special envoy on COVID-19 David Nabarro in the video player above.

The rest of Europe

The list of countries that have registered the biggest acceleration rate in the number of positive cases — an indicator that the country might be nearing a spike — includes Hungary, Poland, France, and Spain. All of the countries are currently considering different measures to prevent the spread.

Source

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